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Education as a Essential Gesture of Human Existence

Is education a human right or human nature?

This question gets at the heart of what we are asking here at the Co-op? Are we educating children and adults or are we instead taking part in a “essential gesture of human existence” as Theodore Roszak states in his timely (written in 1977, but just as relevant today, if not more so) book Person/Planet: The Creative Disintegration of Industrial Society. (Read for free on Google Books)

What happens when we remove the idea that education is done to us and instead look at education as a state of being, how does that change the make up of our practice of teaching. Test scores and seating arrangement become less important if we see education as sharing  of the “daily progress of our lives as we move through the adventure of experience, selecting, rejecting, shaping the moments into some workable meaning” (Roszak pg. 192).

Education and schools are not just for “the special population of learners called ‘the young’,” (pg. 192). We can’t just talk about education happening in schools and to children. We need to change the discussion to education and living as a whole because “education is for everybody, anywhere, and for a lifetime.”

If we begin to talk about education as a life process, as a natural part of human nature then we begin to move beyond the narrow standardized ideas of the industrial model and reach towards a education where people matter not as numbers, but as unique humans who are on the path of life that leads to learning and growth. We can, as teachers, friends or parents, choose adventures and experience that will help them down that path, but we are also mindful that it their path, not ours. These paths will be challenging and at times academically rigorous, but they will also have times of silence and reflection; artistic and creative output; and both individual and cooperative learning. They will balance the needs of the whole person, not just the mind, but also the physical body and the spiritual or emotional self.

It is a path that looks at life as a holistic journey-not a linear time line, but more web like, where the paths of life  intersect at different points and times, branching out to new and unique journeys. It is in this web that true learning happens, and yet  the system of education is designed as if education stops at a certain age and life begins after that.  As if a student’s potential for learning occurs only at one time and one place, and if it doesn’t happen then, it will never happen.

Is this true, or is it not just one of the “worst tyrannies of (our) system”?

We need to reshape our discussions to include the more holistic ideas of learning and life. We need to talk about a true system of education that would support a life that gives us all the “freedom to experiment, to fail, to turn back, to begin again-if necessary, to start a second career, to launch a new life.”

How do you think we can move away from discussion of test scores and data and instead start to talk about the people involved in the learning? How do we have a pragmatic, action-oriented discussion about education as a “Essential gesture of Human Existence”?



11 thoughts on “Education as a Essential Gesture of Human Existence

  1. Yes yes yes!
    I believe there’s an art to “dealing with the data” while we work within the system to engage, create, and envision the essential gesture of human existence. The trends come and go, but this discussion is vital and timeless.

    Posted by Marla McLean, Atelierista | September 20, 2010, 7:03 pm
  2. I agree data is not bad, but it is the idea that some how it can take the place of the real relationship between student and the teacher, the student and their work and school and the community. Data can be used to aid those relationship and the authentic assessment that comes as a part of them, but should come from the ground up. I also wish there were more conversations about how to help children, adults and learners of all ages do there own assessment and data. When we empower the learner to assess their own learning, they are truly empowered to learn anything and anywhere regardless if there are in a building called a school or not.

    How do you bring these types of conversation in your classroom? and do you get a sense that parents and other teachers think about such things as this?

    Posted by dloitz | September 20, 2010, 8:30 pm
  3. Hey David my fine learning partner,

    I want to say thank you for the heads up on Person/Planet, and the free Google read. I did not/do not know this book as I should. I’m ordering it.

    Here’s the problematic piece for me, in terms of your post, or the way I want to complexify the picture in our learning journey. In this country, have we really EVER defined the purpose of education as being about personal growth, profound engagement, and the making of meaning from complex personal experience? (So that individuals become courageous and intrepid lifelong learners?)

    I don’t think so, except in some Progressivist environments that have mostly served the children of the elite. (If you are upper middle class, you may get to go to a school where your complex personal experiences are highly valued. Maybe. Sometimes.) I think school in the United States has been about acculturating massive waves of immigrants; “civilizing” folks to American values of competition, consumption, and upward mobility–trying to get more people to hold, value and cherish the the ideals of middle class, white America. In the discourse now, as I anticipate attending Waiting for Superman tonight, the IDEAL and great promise of many charter schools in this country is that kids with black and brown skin, children of immigrants, can be schooled up to be competitors in elite America: go to competitive boarding schools, highly selective colleges, and run their own not-for-profits helping others thereafter. That’s part of the dream.

    I work in many of those schools, and put my shoulder right to the wheel in helping kids who have NEVER passed the MCAS pass themselves right through and go on to college. As a social justice mission, I embrace that totally. (While also believing that the test is wrong, and unfair, and working like hell to change that.)

    Fundamentally I don’t think most Americans would agree with the basic premise of the post, about what school is for. My sense is that many are very, very pragmatic about what school should do: it should teach skills, and give some sense of civic values, and not screw kids up too much. (A lot of people are really upset now, because they can see that NCLB is a poor way to judge learning and does turn kids off to learning. A lot.) Also, many folks who see systemic injustice everywhere just plain really want their kids to get stuff in school so that their children can compete, and maybe change the paradigm a little. (I have a good friend who says about his 3 African American sons: “I want them to be able to kick the shit out of the SAT.”)

    I think lots of Americans see LIFE as providing a lot of the experiences that we think maybe ought to be offered in school: a chance to explore, a chance to know yourself better, a chance to get complicated, if you want to. Many people figure that if you can pass through school learning a little bit, and not getting too nicked up, that’s really all its supposed to do.

    Trouble is, people really do get nicked up in school. Trouble is, we know the work we do in school could, and should, be so much better.

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | September 23, 2010, 1:17 pm
  4. Great post and responses! I have two thoughts. The first is that we tend not to distinguish the words “education” and “schooling” very often, but they are two different albeit related things. Education happens as you describe, and it is part of our essential nature, and it occurs constantly through interactions, observations, conversations, reading, reflecting, and so on throughout our lives. Schooling is a thing we choose to give children and adolescents to convey specific knowledge and skills. As I’ve written here before, I personally think that the goal of schooling ought to be to provide the knowledge, tools, and (hopefully) motivation to youth to be changemakers for a peaceful, sustainable and humane world no matter what professions they pursue. I hope that their lifelong education will help them know themselves better, find joy, and bring a measure of inspiration, but for me schooling needs to include a service-oriented purpose in a world in grave danger.

    Posted by Zoe Weil | September 23, 2010, 1:53 pm
  5. I agree with you whole-heartedly!

    I understand that the mass of people believe that purpose of education is just to be a time period in life to pass though with a few skills and knowledge added, I can’t follow suit. I can not cheer that on, nor promote it because I believe on a very pragmatic and social justice level that it will not work for society at large in the future, in the past or the present.

    We have played around with how to make school work to hide the injustice of our society, and I honestly done helping reformers hide our social problems in school trying to uniform our society to fit with the ideals of Capitalist mindless America (lets not forget that lots of people of color and of both genders help to keep the industrial model of life going , even if the majority of them are white and male)(and as more minority start to break the glass ceiling, we have to remember that it is not merely justice if they repeat the injustice of another race).

    If we do not start to chance the conversation to education as life, we will never to be able to be a part of even a small dose of a world that is lived by life long learners and people who see personal growth as a goal in itself.

    I struggle everyday with my ideals, but can not help but keep looking for pragmatic ways to find situations to expanding them. I still believe deep in my heart that as we need to change the discussion to education done by us and not for us. When we do that we start to shift awareness and while I can not change the minds of all people, (not sure my one voice or one opinion would be ideal anyway), we can start to built small tribes that support and empower others to build small tribes that are human scale and relationship and community based.

    Education by the People for the People! Not bought and sold to us by Billionaires and think tanks!

    Thanks for pushing me Kirsten. I was eagerly awaiting your comment. Can’t wait to hear your comments on Waiting for Superman! Maybe you could ask Gregory Canada if he think “Is education a human right or human nature?”

    David Loitz

    Posted by dloitz | September 23, 2010, 1:53 pm
  6. Go to the Village home. village website and you will find an oasis in the field of education. The ideas discussed above are what drives everything that happens at village. it is amazing to see the different kinds of young individuals that thrive in this learning environment including the teachers! Yay there is hope. On my website under education you can go to the student work at Village via the art gallery. It is mostly the artistic results of art and math artistry, but at Village you can bores the catalog and be amazed.

    Posted by Alice cotton | October 11, 2010, 11:05 am
    • Yea love the work being done at the Village home. I picked up a catalog in Portland! I love it, I wish there was more learning communities like that. I want more not less options in learning. I think what the Village home does is balance the social learning space with the ability to choose and be nomadic as a learner. I would love to create a community of learners that could meet in one place but branch out at times to places like the Village home and not be stuck in one place or one community. I would love to have you do a post about your work with them and how it has affected you as a education thinker and teacher and learner if you are interested!

      So glad you have join the conversation! My memories of our 5th class has inspired me a lot in my thinking about education. I feel so blessed to have been given the chance to have you, Laura, Bill and Jill as learning partners….and wish I had a time machine to watch from the sidelines and soak up all the good work that was being done!
      Your student and friend!

      Posted by dloitz | October 11, 2010, 12:05 pm
  7. glad this resurfaced David. dang sept 2010.

    ou thinking now:
    local (permeated by virtuals) kitchen table conversations. about what matters. in spaces of permission, in order to create more spaces of permission. spaces where there is nothing to prove.

    a quiet revolution.

    Posted by monika hardy | February 16, 2012, 10:39 am


  1. Pingback: Education as a Essential Gesture of Human Existence « Adventures in Learning - September 20, 2010

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  3. Pingback: Education as a Essential Gesture of Human Existence | Human Scale Education | - August 27, 2011

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